While overlanding is all the rage at the moment, its origins lie in English gentlemen crossing Africa in Land Rovers. Chris Brion doesn’t live in Africa, but he is a proper British gentleman and does drive a Land Rover. Chris has built a lot of Rovers over the years for everything from daily driving to rockcrawling, but he wanted something truly unique that he could live out of for weeks at a time on mountain biking and hiking trips in the Southwest. He sold all of his other toys and put his time and energy into building this incredibly well thought out Defender.
Chris started by giving a wrecked Defender 90 that had been in his friend Jeff Payne’s yard a new lease on life. A Defender110 frame and rear body were sourced for extra wheelbase and storage space. The next order of business was more power, as Chris knew his expedition vehicle would not be light when it was completed. Chris rented space at local rover shop SWR Automotive, where he rolled up his sleeves and got to work installing a Cummins R2.8 turbodiesel backed by a 6L80E six-speed automatic transmission into his Defender. Rob Dassler at SWR Automotive was instrumental in guiding Chris dial running gear, adapters, transfer case ratio, suspension and axles to reliably handle the added power and weight. Chris was able to use some diesel Rover components, such as the radiator and exhaust from a 300Tdi, along with some clever out-of-the-box thinking, such as using a right-hand-drive steering box on the outside of the left-hand framerail for added engine clearance.
Normally a Cummins swap would be the highlight of a vehicle, but in this case it is arguably overshadowed by the super-cool Alu-Cab Icarus top that replaces the factory hard top with a pop top. The top is fitted with Masai panoramic windows and an Alu-Cab 270-degree awning to provide shade in the desert. Inside, Chris worked with cabinetmakers Kevin Suddarth and Greg Baczek to essentially build a mini-RV that has all of the comforts of home, yet is capable of going far more places than the typical Winnebago or Sprinter van. While Chris hasn’t driven his Defender across Africa, there is no doubt he could comfortably do so if he felt compelled to.
1994 Land Rover Defender
Engine: Cummins R2.8 turbodiesel
Transmission: 6L80E 6-speed automatic
Transfer Case: LT230
Front Axle: Land Rover with 3.54 gears, ARB Air Locker, and Ashcroft axles
Rear Axle: Land Rover with 3.54 gears, Detroit Locker, and Ashcroft axles
Springs & Such: Gwyn Lewis 4×4 Challenge long-travel kit
Tires & Wheels: 285/75R16 Goodyear Duratrac on Land Rover Wolf steel
Steering: RHD steering box on the outside of the frame
Lighting: JW Speaker Evolution 8700 headlights
Other Stuff: Alu-Cab Icarus rooftop conversion, Alu-Cab 270-degree awning, Masai Panorama windows, Tuffy center console, Engel freezer-fridge, Warn 9.5ti winch, Rockware front and rear bumpers, custom rock sliders by Jeff Payne, Webasto diesel heater, custom interior by Kevin Suddarth and Greg Baczek, Allisport radiator, transmission tuning by Heritage Driven